The Donkey Rule

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, July 2019

Recently, while conducting some research, I happened upon “The Donkey Rule,” (1) a tool that is designed to help people make better decisions. According to The Rule, if five people you trust call something a donkey, but you call it a horse, it is a donkey. In other words, if several other people give you similar advice about a situation, you should probably take it.

The Donkey Rule can be especially helpful if you find yourself in a recurring situation. I often have clients who find it difficult to recognize recurring patterns, or to learn from previous experiences. The Donkey Rule can apply to guidance that is received from any credible source, including books and Web sites.

For more than one year, Kayla pursued a job in marketing, despite the fact that she did not posses social media, search engine optimization, and other skills that were continually listed as requirements in job posts. She resisted the idea of taking classes to learn those skills, because she had a college degree. Despite advice from her university’s career office, online research about the marketing field, and informational interviews with three marketing directors, she continued to apply to the same type of positions.

Brody had very strong opinions about the way that laboratory research should be conducted. He lost three jobs in a row because he refused to lower his “standard of excellence” and follow instructions from his supervisors. Although he agreed that there was a negative pattern occurring, Brody refused to heed the advice of colleagues, his mentor from college, his father and his wife.

What makes a source credible? Certainly family members who know you well and have advised you thoughtfully in the past. Additionally, consider professionals such as teachers, professors, counselors, psychotherapists and coaches. Even a supportive supervisor or co-worker can be a valuable source of information to help you succeed. If you are consulting online and printed resources, choose material from established experts or organizations.

Melanie was able to reverse a pattern of conflicts with co-workers. During her first year on the job, things went well.  Then somehow, her relationships with co-workers would sour. Melanie would either be fired or resign. After several short-term jobs, she decided to accept the feedback from multiple colleagues about her abrasive communication style. Previously, she attempted to justify why her negative comments about other people’s work were correct. Once she recognized the “donkey,” she shifted her focus to learning better ways to interact with others. Now she has remained employed at a job she enjoys for 4 ½ years.


(1) Source: Autism and Learning Differences, An Active Learning Teaching Toolkit, copyright Michael P. McManmon (2016), Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pgs. 77 – 79.

Copyright 2019, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching